Web Site: Mike Chavez
After a break-up, a soldier loses contact with the woman he loves. Without her he realizes what is most important in his life and he'll sacrifice everything to be reunited with her.
(NOTE: Indentions did not transfer, visit my website to read entire story for free or for a link to download it in multiple formats)
(NOTE: Indentions did not transfer, visit my website to read entire story for free or for a link to download it in multiple formats)
The setting sun burned a spectrum of deep purples and oranges into the sky. A chapel bell was ringing hundreds of stories above me and my shoes made a distinct tap-tap-tapping as I ran up the weathered concrete steps. It never occurred to me how strange it was that there was a never ending trickle of people entering the church even though the ceremony had long since begun. I pushed my way past a middle aged couple; they gave no protest or reaction.
As I passed through the ornate portal I was plunged into a chamber filled by blinding light. My nerves were already on edge, and my anxiety heightened as I struggled to focus my vision. I knew she would be at the altar. I wanted to see her but I couldn’t keep my eyes open against the fierce light. I whined like a helpless child. My stomach turned cold and I could feel the tears coming. I could still hear the priest speaking over the gasping of audience members, surprised and outraged at my clamorous entrance. I felt like breaking down, just letting the hopelessness in my gut consume me and letting the tears wash over my face. But if I stopped now I would never reach her. My Love. I pushed on down the aisle, shielding my eyes from the light.
The aisle went on for miles. I lost control of my emotions and the panic took over. My broken voice called out her name, my soul begged for her presence. I finally succumbed, crumbling to the ground, crying like a baby and begging for her.
“Gabe?” I heard her say somewhere above me.
She always called me Gabe.
I looked up and there she was in the dazzling panoply of a fairy tale bride. The blinding light was gone. I had made it to the altar. I had crumbled at her feet and hadn’t even realized it.
“I need you back,” I begged. “I can’t live without you,” I said, reciting the lines spoken by the broken hearted since the dawn of mankind.
I meant every word.
She shook her head. She didn’t speak. She didn’t blink. It didn’t seem like she realized the extent of my pain. I was baring my naked, aching soul to her. I bore it all: my humility, my pain, my longing. And most importantly I bared my love for her. I didn’t care who saw. If every witness could attest to the infinite love I had for her, if it would make her take me back, then I would show myself like this to the world.
But it wasn’t working. She didn’t care for the dramatic display. Maybe she was even disgusted by it, I really couldn’t tell. The only thing that was clear was that she wasn’t taking me back. Somehow I knew she still loved me, but it didn’t matter. She had moved on. She was forever lost to me and would now belong to the stranger dressed like a groom. Her hand was in his as he tore her away from me.
It was enough to make me want to die…
* * * * *
My alarm clock startled me from sleep. Normally I’d slap the snooze button to make it shut up, but this morning I didn’t have the energy to move my arm. Everyone learns to hate their alarms after having so many peaceful slumbers interrupted. Even though I despised mine, a little part of me was grateful for the racket that had saved me from my nightmare. The waves of sirens pushed each relentless thought of her out of my head. But memories of our lives together would barrage my mind’s eye in the short silences between the alarm’s rings. I lay there staring at my ceiling with tormenting images of her pulsing through my brain. I’m sure if it was up to me I would have lied there like a dead man until I fell back to sleep; breaking up with the person you love is debilitating like that. But I lived in Army barracks with minimal privacy, so it was only a matter of time before an outside presence interrupted my misery. This time the intervention, probably irritated by the wailing of the alarm, came as a bang on the wall from my neighbor.
The rest of the morning’s motions came automatically. I couldn't remember brushing my teeth, shaving or changing into my physical training uniform, but apparently I did all of those things because I found myself standing in formation in the dark of pre-dawn. I thought about how it was unnatural it was for humans to wake up this early. I hated my life. I hated everyone and everything around me. The guys behind me were joking and laughing like they were enjoying an evening out at a bar. I hated them. I wanted to tell them to shut the fuck up, but I remained quiet, shivering in place, hating the cold, staring at the entrance to my Company’s building waiting for the moment our first sergeant would finally get his old ass out here so we could get moving!
This morning I hated him too.
By the time the old prick showed up and our morning run was underway it was too late: She had found her way back into my thoughts and was already making a mess of things up there. She didn’t bother to leave me alone until I was well into the morning’s five mile run and my attention shifted to the pain in my knees as I tried to maintain the seven minute-mile pace.
After we were released from morning PT I sulked back to my room.
“Hey Gabriel!” Sergeant Freeman got my attention. “You alright man?” He asked as he trotted up alongside of me.
“Yeah man, I’m fine.” I lied.
“You’re not eating chow?” He asked, knowing full well that the one meal I didn’t mind getting each month’s paycheck deducted for was breakfast.
“Nah man, I’ve got some stuff in my room. I’m just going to eat there.”
His eyeballs slightly crossed in the comedic way they did when he was being sarcastic or dramatic. “Yeah, okay, it’s obvious you’re not okay man. What is it, your girl?”
I could feel the anger inside me burning. But he was a good guy, a friend even, so I forced myself to remain calm. I looked at him as his eyes drifted back in place and I wondered, as I always did, if he purposely did it, or for that matter, if he even realized he did it. I didn’t have the energy to ask.
“My ex-girl actually…,” was all I managed.
“Awe man, that’s rough. Believe me, I know.”
I didn’t believe him. He was too upbeat to ever have felt pain like this. I was sure of it.
“You want to grab a drink after work? Get your mind off…things.”
I've always thought that it’s a funny thing: drinking while depressed. The intentions for encouraging it are good, but the concept is absurd. Sure in practice it can be a momentary relief, if in presence of the right company, but in the end alcohol is still a depressant. It's a practice that needs to be considered with care and at great risk, or else could easily turn into disaster. I knew that at this point, in my mood, there was only one person I trusted myself drinking with and it wasn’t Sergeant Freeman.
He’s a good dude, I reminded myself. He even had the courtesy of referring to her as …things. “Maybe tomorrow, it’ll be Friday after all.” I lied again. Fortunately we were reaching the point where the paths leading to our rooms split.
He patted my shoulder. “Alright, we’ll do that man. Hang in there. I’ll see you at nine.”
I had managed to drag myself into the shower but got trapped in there by my thoughts until my palms began to prune. I shut off the water and lay my head against the cold, dirty tile with a thud. I didn’t want to get out. I lived in barracks with community bathrooms and I could hear others outside. Pain like this feels like it’s as evident as if it were painted in red on my forehead. Behind the curtain I was safe; no one could see how pathetic I was without her.
The alarm on my cell phone went off, reminding me it was time to head back to work.
And I wasn’t even dressed…
* * * * *
This morning we were forced to sit through mandatory training classes presented by guest speakers. Death by Powerpoint. Classes like these were obnoxious on a good day; today they were simply unbearable. How easy it was for my attention to wander and for her to float into my thoughts again. When the memories became too much to bear and I realized there was no escape, my defenses would fire up and my brain would try to impart some archaic wisdom on me. Today it was telling me that Love is an addiction, and like a drug, I needed to quit. It was bad for me, it was deterring me from my goals, and it was consuming my life. It would be hard to quit cold turkey but if I knew what was best for me and I needed to do it. If I expected to carry on with my life, my career, my health, I needed to get over her!
“Sergeant Meyers!” I was startled to hear my name. The fat woman presenting the class had called me more than once.
I stared at her, dumbfounded, as everyone else stared at me. A few chuckles sounded from somewhere to my right. The hog fumed as she tried setting me on fire with her eyes. Maybe the others were laughing at her. I finally managed a feeble, “Yes?”
“Can you tell us what percentage of sexual assault victims are men?”
More chuckles from the crowd as I pondered the ridiculous question and tried to get over the bitch’s intrusion. Normally I would’ve made a sarcastic remark, encouraged more suffering on the fat woman. But all that came out was a simple, “No.”
The hog glared at me harder, obviously unsatisfied with the effects of her attempted immolation. “You don’t think this is serious, do you Sergeant?” Her hands went to her hips. I guess I wasn’t getting off that easily.
“Yes, I do… I just…” My head lowered itself into the palm of my hand. I hadn’t even realized I had stopped talking. I just couldn’t think. I couldn’t get my brain to function.
“I think it would be best if you just continued, ma’am. We have to break for chow soon and then we have infantry training afterwards.” Sergeant First Class Griffith said.
I couldn’t tell if he was simply saving my ass or if he was just annoyed with the classes, but I really didn’t care. The point was that as an E-7, Platoon Sergeant, he could get away with it and I was grateful that he’d spoken up because it had worked. The fat woman continued her presentation, huffing and puffing through the remainder, aggravated at the apathy of the crowd.
After the classes were over and I was making my way out of the crowded room I caught SFC Griffith’s eyes inspecting me. I felt awkward under his scrutinizing gaze, again like my every emotion was displayed for public view, but worse this time since he was undoubtedly analyzing my leadership capabilities. I should have stood tall and confident, made some sort of acknowledging gesture, but instead I shrank under his gaze, averted my eyes, and tried blending into the crowd as I exited the building and headed to my truck. It was lunch. I needed to get my damn head on straight.
* * * * *
I was in no mood to eat. I sat in front of my laptop in my barrack’s room thinking of her. Thinking of us. I found myself here like this over and over, more and more in these past couple of weeks. This time I gave in to temptation and my mouse worked like an engine, searching through the chronicles of pictures I kept on my hard drive. I had deleted any picture with her, but I was almost certain that there would be a few remaining somewhere. I had pictures dating from high school in various categories and folders. There had to be a picture or two remaining somewhere, whether misfiled or simply missed when I scrubbed my hard drive of all memories of her. It would probably take hours to go through all the contents. I realized this wasn’t what I intended when I told myself I was going to get my mind right before going back into work.
I tossed the mouse aside in frustration and slammed the lid of my laptop closed. I stood up; sending the chair flying out from beneath me, a frustrated yell escaping out of my mouth. I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. I looked pathetic. Dark bags had formed under my eyes and my skin looked sickly pale. My eyes were watery. My hands were trembling. What was I thinking? I couldn’t go on like this. I remembered the end of us. I was the one who had ended it. Not in a sense that our break up was entirely my fault; like all relationships both parties were to blame. I was just the one who finally put my foot down and said, “Enough.” I was the one to tell her it was over, that I didn’t want her in my life anymore.
Recalling that last fight, I realized how pathetic the cause of it actually was. How easily the argument could’ve been resolved. Or actually, how easily it should’ve been resolved. That was the problem. Like in most relationships that enter rough waters we lost sight of the things that were important. Every little mistake turned into a travesty, every criticizing word became an insult, every mundane moment turned sour. And every fight, however meaningless, contributed to the ugly mass that was consuming our happy lives. It should have been obvious to the both of us. How many times had we fought over something trivial, something utterly ridiculous, and found ourselves apologizing hours later, promising never to do it again? But it was inevitable. We fought again and again. And near the end, not a single damn one of them was worth the heartache. But we were too blind to see just how much we meant to each other.
We were in our own cities at the time of the fight. She lived in Portland, Oregon, went to the University there. I was stationed here at Fort Bliss, TX. She’d been busy with finals for the previous couple of weeks and our phone conversations had suffered because of the time constraints on both our schedules. I didn’t mind too much. Naturally, as a guy, I didn’t necessarily enjoy talking on the phone. As long as I could hear her voice once or twice a day and we could get in a few minutes of substantial conversation in I was fine. She, however, was becoming more and more moody. She was easily irritated if my attention wandered, even for a second, in the short time we had to talk those days.
We had argued once the week before because my roommate had asked me a question while we were talking. I answered his question, taking no more than ten seconds, and in return got an earful of aggravated girlfriend. After the tirade was over and we were civilly explaining ourselves she claimed her outburst was because she missed me and desperately wished we could have more time together. I didn’t understand the logic of causing a fight over it, but I didn’t bother having her explain any further for fear of igniting another argument.
Finals had passed and there we were, about to have our first “long” conversation in nearly half a month. I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of spending hours on the phone, but if it made her happy that was all I needed. I called her as soon as I was released for the day only to hear what sounded like a party going on in the background. She was cheerful. She said “the girls” had gone to a restaurant for happy hour. She said they were planning on going out and celebrating and she’d call me before then, but only after they were finished eating. As ridiculous as it sounds in hindsight, it aggravated me. I conceded, but my anger was evident and it irritated her. Another fight broke out. She left her friends at the table in order to yell at me outside the restaurant. She claimed she deserved it. I claimed that we deserved our phone time and it wasn’t fair for her to jump down my throat for answering my roommate’s short question if she was going to put us off all night to party. And with that little spark the argument exploded, fueled by trivial transgressions of the past.
We were already at a desperate stage of an already difficult long-distance relationship, having gone through several stints of short breakups only to come rushing back to each other. But not this time, I decided. I had finally had enough. I was tired of all this fighting. I was tired of her selfishness. Her temper. Her hurtful words. I was tired of putting all my effort into a relationship halfway across the country and receiving nothing but frustration and anger. I was tired of catering to her needs. I told her I was tired of her, that I needed to focus on myself. I told her we were done, and for good this time. I told her I wanted her out of my life. I was going to end this once and for all. And I did…
That was two months ago and I couldn’t help but thinking now that maybe I was wrong. And maybe everyone else was wrong when they said I would get over her. A tear traced its way down my cheek and I knew that I drastically needed to do something before I went insane. There was only one person’s advice I trusted. I picked up my phone and dialed my best friend, Dennis.
* * * * *
I had just ordered a beer to help me relax while I waited for Dennis to arrive at Fara Café Sports Bar in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Dennis lived in Austin, TX and worked for an airline. He got free space-available flights from the airline he worked for and as an additional perk he was afforded a few 'buddy passes' to give to others for free flights as well. It was a long holiday weekend for the both of us, so he convinced me to use one of his free passes to come to Austin. Normally I would have gone to Portland to visit her.
“Oh my God, dude, look at you. You look like the chic from Paranormal Activity.” Dennis said.
I was so transfixed on my thoughts that I hadn’t noticed him walk right up next me. “Yeah, yeah. Are you going to order one?” I said, forcing my thoughts away and trying to act normally.
“Nah, I’m good. I’ll save it for tonight.” He took a seat beside me at the bar. “You ready to bust out?”
Dennis always wanted to “bust out.” This was the first time I felt like I actually had something to bust out of. “I wouldn’t say I’m exactly ready, but your right, I have to.”
“Good, because I know of a few parties going on tonight. Or if you prefer we could hit up Sixth Street or the Warehouse District.”
I was in no mood for chic nightclubs, so the Warehouse District was out. Sixth Street was a cherished drunken pastime for us, but I really didn’t want to deal with the crowds or any obnoxious frat boys. “What’s up with these parties?” I said.
“I thought you’d prefer that. The one I think is best is this chic Stephanie’s birthday party. I went to school with her, she’s a teacher now.”
“A teacher huh?” I tried sounding interested.
“Yes, dude, she’s hot and she has hot friends so snap out of it already!”
Apparently, my ruse hadn’t worked. I should’ve known as much. Dennis was my cousin and my best friend. He was only a year younger than me but our childhoods were very different. His family lived on the North side of Austin and I had grown up on the East side. He’d gone to predominantly white schools, whereas my school’s minorities consisted of the meager population of white kids who inevitably spoke Spanglish. In personality, we were almost polar opposites. Dennis was an academic. He was clean-cut, had proper manners, and enjoyed working in office settings. And most importantly (for this situation), he was a hopeless romantic. I, on the other hand, had joined the Army's infantry, which speaks volumes in respect to our contrasts. Furthermore, before her I had always been a strong independent type who despised relationships. The reason had nothing to do with my looks or ability to get girls; I simply didn’t want to be part of a relationship. The concept of it never appealed to me, and seeing the damaging effects of relationships on the people around me had solidified my resolve on my choice to remain single throughout my youth. Before her, my longest relationship had only lasted four months, and that was only because of the technicalities regarding break ups. Dennis, on the other hand, was in and out of relationships like clockwork. I always teased that we could associate seasons and memories based on the girlfriend he had at the time.
“Finish your beer already, Danny wants us to head over and play some poker before we head out.” Danny was Dennis’ older brother.
“Alright, alright, calm down.” I downed the rest of my beer and stood up. Dennis started walking out. “Hey hold up, I haven’t paid.”
“Ok, I’ma go take a piss.”
He left and I signaled the bartender to the money I left on the bar top. He nodded and I turned to leave, but my eyes caught sight of the thing that I was transfixed on when Dennis had arrived. The couple sat at a table, their hands entwined beneath the table top. They were talking and laughing in the calm, comfortable manner of a veteran couple. It was the type of insignificant thing that you’d remember only when it was over. It was those small details that I missed most. I missed the companionship. I missed holding her hand, and how my fingers would inadvertadley search her palm so that, subconsciously, I knew every detail of her delicate hand.
I remembered the good things. I remembered how her ear was always available to listen to my issues, no matter how mundane. I remembered how, when we were together, her arms were always there to hold me, whether it was just to pass the moments or if I really needed someone to console me. When we held each other there seemed to be no doubt that she would be by my side for anything that was to come in our future.
But the future wasn’t ours anymore. And her palm wasn’t in mine, and she wasn’t talking, or laughing with, or listening to me. She wasn’t holding me or consoling me. She wasn’t loving me.
It was at these moments, these little revelations that would happen over and over again, a thousand times a day, when all I wanted was to pick up the phone and beg for her back, just like in the dream. My throat would tighten and I would long to hear her voice and hear about her day. I would do anything to hear her laugh again.
I bit my lip to hold back the tears as I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and searched the contacts in vain. She wasn’t there. I had deleted her number for this exact reason. And not only that, but all the texts, all the emails, all the social connections on the internet. I had deleted them all in a drunken rage when I couldn’t get a hold of her one time shortly after the break-up. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I figured that if she could ignore me then it was best that I make myself do the same. But that had been over a month ago and then the dreams had started and they were becoming more intense. I could feel my life escaping from my every pore. I just wanted to crumble right there. I wanted to cry and confess my love, I didn’t care who saw me. The more the better if it meant that she would call me.
Dennis appeared beside me and I didn’t bother hiding my watery, bloodshot eyes. “I need her back man.” I said.
“You’re worse than me dude, I swear… Come on.” He picked up my luggage in one hand and grabbed my arm with the other. He tried pulling me away from the bar but I didn’t move. “Gabriel, Come on! Trust me man, I know how it is.”
I relented, after all if there was one guy I trusted to actually understand my pain it was Dennis. As a hopeless romantic he was well versed in the pains of love and loss. But because I had always been independent I was sure it made my situation more unendurable than anything he could imagine. Where he could fall in love with any girl and replace his broken hearts, I had only one heart, and it belonged to her.
* * * * *
There were six of us at Danny’s house playing poker. There was myself along with Dennis and his friend Jaime, and Danny and a couple of his friends, Guillermo and Peter.
“You’re still upset over that chic?” Dennis’ older brother, Danny, asked. He seemed amused by my pain.
“It’s still fresh. I’ll be over it in no time.” I lied, trying to maintain the personal image that most others knew me by.
“Didn’t ya’ll break up a few months ago?”
“Yes!” Dennis interjected.
“No… It’s been barely two months…” I said, and actually laughed a little at my pathetic response.
“Wow, this chic messed you up bad.” Danny said. “When ya’ll getting back together?” He said with a laugh.
Dennis was eyeing me over his cards. Waves of nausea flowed over me as I struggled with the depression of not having her. “Not going to happen… It’s for good this time.” I forced out, trying to make myself believe my own words.
“Damn straight,” Dennis said.
The conversation continued like this for some time, but fortunately Guillermo, being loud and boisterous, grew bored with my suffering and quickly changed the subject to helping my recovery by finding me a girl tonight.
“Ain’t none of these bitches worth the trouble they cause. Once a bitch forgets how to act, you gotta cut that shit off, hit the club, and grab yourself another one.” Guillermo said.
“Spoken like a true champ.” Peter mocked him. “Which is why he’s still with his girl after that shit she pulled last weekend.” He laughed as he patted the table with two fingers and checked the flop onto me.
“Hey, she’s still learning, that’s all. Plus she’s a bad bitch in bed.”
I thought about her. I thought about our most passionate moments of love making… I remembered the taste her sweat on my lips, the smell of her body. I could almost feel my hand tangled in her moist, messy hair. During those moments she looked a wreck, but there was nothing sexier knowing that she looked like that because of our love-making. It made me want her more. I lusted for her body like no other woman I’d ever been with. Sex was more than just sex with her. I never understood the concept of making love until her. I never realized how much more pleasurable sex could be when you loved someone, when you desired everything about her, when you would wanted to feel, taste, and own every last ounce of her.
“Gabriel!” Dennis caught my attention. “We’re waiting on you.”
I looked around to see all eyes on me. I looked at the flop at the table and remembered that Peter had checked to me. I tossed a high chip forward in a futile attempt to mask my dreaming as a carefully considered bet.
I couldn’t even remember what cards I had.
“Check it out holmes,” Guillermo said to me. “All them chics are doing their baby shower thing tonight so tonight we’re rollin’ deep.” The chics he was referring to were Danny’s wife and his girlfriend. “After this game, we’re hittin’ up a strip club. We need to get some titties rubbed in our boy’s face over here.” This, he so eloquently proposed to the rest of the table and to my surprise no one protested. “I know some sexy jainas at The Yellow Rose. Spit a little bit of game and they’ll be suckin’ your dick outside the club like that!” He snapped his fingers and I watched the lard under his chin jiggle.
I wondered how this fat cholo could pull a woman like the beautiful, tall Latina he was with. And still, he wasn’t faithful. But that’s the thing about most guys, they are never satisfied. Give them a beautiful woman and pretty soon they’ll want one with bigger tits, then another with lighter skin, then another with freckles... It didn’t matter to guys; there would always be a reason to fuck another woman. I had learned this ugly truth about myself at the beginning of our relationship, but I realized I didn’t want to jeopardize our relationship by sleeping with another woman simply because she was different or new. I learned to accept my woman for who she was, and for who she wasn’t, and I was happy to have only her for the rest of my life.
“Don’t worry Gabe, we’ll make sure you get first dibs tonight. I can play wingman all night; I’m coming home to Linda.” Danny said.
I gave him a crooked smile. “Thanks, I guess I can look forward to an awkward night of having girls pushed on me?”
“Hey, it’s always easier talking to chics when you're doing it for someone else.” Dennis said.
I knew I needed it, but truth was I just didn’t want it. There was no doubt in my mind the night would be an uncomfortable disaster unless I drank more. So I downed my beer, rose from the table and headed into the kitchen.
“You have any liquor in here?” I asked Danny.
* * * * *
The club was dark, the music was loud, and I was well beyond buzzed. I caught glimpses of bright, scantily clad women drinking, sitting, and grinding on top of dark figures as I mindlessly followed the others. Peter and Dennis put a couple of tables together so we could all fit. After taking my seat my vision refocused and I was able to make coherent observations. The club wasn’t as packed as I thought it’d be and there seemed to be an over abundance of unoccupied strippers. Good looking ones too, I happily noted.
Across the room from us there were a couple of bikers. Their big frames and underlying muscles were packed heavy with fat and clad in leather and black. They looked like they hadn’t showered in days and they were sipping on the cheapest beer the bar had to offer. Sitting on one of their laps was a Latin beauty in a hot orange bikini and shawl that glowed under the black lights. Her bored expression didn't compliment her swelling breasts, so I waited to catch her gaze and then nodded her over. She obliged and fortunately for me the bikers didn’t notice.
She walked over to me, in no hurry really, and to my disappointment she wasn’t looking too thrilled about it. The music stopped and the DJ called another fantastical name to the stage and told another sweet edible name to stand by. The alcohol made me swell with confidence and I decided I would make it my mission to turn this sour stripper’s mood as light as mine. If I could feel this good, considering recent issues, then I figured anyone could. As the stripper approached I asked Dennis to move over and grab another seat. The stripper put her hand on my shoulder and twisted her body to sit in my lap, but I put a gentle palm on her curvaceous hip and motioned to the empty seat beside me. She eyed me curiously and then sat down without a word.
I introduced myself and then made a quick, vain introduction of the others around the table and she pretended to take note of their names. She introduced herself as Tiffany, stage name Destiny, and I considered it a good start. I told her that was ironic because Gabriel was my stage name, my real name was Fate and this could be a sign. The sour stripper smiled and I asked her if she wanted a drink. She told me that she rarely drank, but I insisted. As if on cue a cute waitress appeared beside me.
“Are you a fruity drink type of girl?” I asked Tiffany, not acknowledging the waitress.
Tiffany frowned and gave me a dull look. “Do I seem like the type of girl who likes fruity drinks?”
She thought it over but I couldn’t put off acknowledging the waitress any longer. “Can I get a vodka-redbull and a rum and coke?”
The waitress smiled politely, and gave a simple acknowledgement. She left and my focus returned to Tiffany. I hoped the infamous lady killer would be enough to cheer her up.
“I was going to say I’ll just take a Bud Light, but I guess vodka-redbull it is.” Tiffany said.
“Bud Light is not what you need right now anyways.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a compliment.”
I eyed her over my glass as I took a drink. “That’s because it’s not. But I can find plenty to compliment you on. Only problem is that you’ve probably been hearing them all night.”
She looked like she was trying to read my mind. Whatever she saw must've been good because her lips extend into a smile and she ran a hand through her long brown hair.
The drinks kept coming and the conversation kept going and for a moment I forgot that the beautiful woman I was talking to was nearly naked. I discovered that Tiffany was so bitter because it was her birthday (which she claimed was the reason why she allowed me to buy her a cocktail), but she was fairly new to Austin so she had no one to celebrate it with except the dirty old men that had been groping her all night and were tipping like shit. That is, until I came around. The conversation got deeper when I found out that she had just moved to Austin from El Paso, which was where I was currently stationed. Soon we were so engrossed in conversation that we forgot about our drinks, I was ignoring my friends, and she was ignoring her stage calls.
I don’t know exactly what triggered it, but a spark of sexual tension churned my stomach as I realized the proximity of this tanned beauty’s bare skin. I let my hand travel over her firm thigh. Her skin was smooth and warm. I leaned in closer to her ear. I reminded her that it was her birthday and maybe it was about to we go somewhere together to celebrate properly. She asked me if I had a ride. I assured her I did and she told me to meet her outside in ten minutes. As she left I couldn’t help but feel like things were going too perfectly. How had I gotten so lucky? This was by and far not the norm for a night out, especially at a strip joint. But maybe it was a sign. Maybe I was on the road to recovery from that bitch…
The six of us had come to the club in two vehicles, Guillermo’s and Dennis’s. There would be plenty of room for the six of them in Guillermo’s Lincoln Navigator, so Dennis didn’t hesitate letting me take his ride. In fact he was eager to give me the keys. He handed them to me before even asking if I was okay to drive. I still had a buzz going, but I was more sober now that when we had first arrived, and considering the circumstances I felt confident I would get to my destination safely.
* * * * *
I walked into Dennis’s place around eight in the morning and found him sprawled over the couch, his limbs leaking to the floor. Apparently he wasn’t in as deep a coma as I’d hoped because he jolted at the sound of the door closing and looked up at me.
“Dude… Du… Dude! How’d it go?” A lazy smile crept over his booze stamped face.
“Wha…yeah right.” He turned onto his back, pulling his entire body onto the couch, and rubbed his eyes with his palms. “Don’t hold out on me dude. She was hot. Tell me what happened.”
“I need her back.”
Dennis’s head jerked my way, his gaze shooting over me. The motion was quick and sharp, belying his hang over. “What happened?” He asked in an ominous tone.
I walked over to the loveseat and slumped down into it. “I couldn’t stop thinking of her.” Dennis watched me without words but I didn’t know what else to say. “I need her back, there’s no doubt in my mind now.”
Dennis nodded. I was put off. I was expecting resistance, some sort of scolding from him. Instead I was met with quiet agreement. “So where were you all night?”
“I stayed in a hotel parking lot…” My throat tightened and I willed myself not to break. “I tried calling her from memory, but none of the numbers I tried worked.”
“And then you passed out?”
I shook my head, keeping my gaze on the keys in my hand. “Nah.. I went inside, pretended I was a hotel guest and used the internet. I couldn’t find her or any of her friends online.”
“What the fuck am I supposed to do? I mean, how the hell…” I was in turmoil again, just like I was last night in the hotel when I felt lost and alone. I had felt hopeless and helpless and I retreated to the car crying and pulling at my arms and chest, feeling like I needed to crawl out of my own skin. “I understand if maybe she deleting her profiles, but all of her friends too!?” I met eyes with Dennis, but his eyes retreated to the floor as he considered it.
“Maybe she told them all to ignore you or something… Maybe their profiles are hidden to you…”
I watched him, hoping he’d know what I wanted from him. After a brief moment it was clear that he did because he got up, groaning and steadying his head with a hand. He retrieved his laptop from his room.
We spent over an hour at the dining table in a vain attempt to find her or any of her friends online. We knew from the start that the searching would be as futile as last night’s, that the explanation wasn’t as simple as an “ignore” feature or “hide from Gabriel” button. Finally Dennis took over the laptop and pulled up his airline.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Well one thing’s obvious…” His fingers worked over the keyboard. “Here we go.” He pointed at an afternoon flight to Portland, Oregon.
I wanted to ask if he was serious, but I was afraid of the answer. The idea felt absurd, but as I thought it over it truly seemed like the only option.
“Are we going to bust out in Portland or what?”
“Well yeah, you think I’d let you do this alone? Plus I’ve never been to Portland, you say it’s awesome, and you say she has hot friends, so why the hell not?”
I looked at me best friend and smiled. “Why are you doing this, man?”
“I just told you.”
“I mean why are you helping me get her back all of a sudden. You’ve been trying to get me to move on for two months now.”
“I haven’t been trying to get you to get over her; I’ve been trying to help you get over her. But it’s obvious that that’s not what you want. Maybe she is the one for you. And maybe you’re not going to be happy without her, so if this is what you want, well then I guess I’ll just help you get her back.”
* * * * *
On the plane the taunting from Dennis that I had initially expected finally came. Maybe it was because he could tell I was in the best mood I’d been in the past two months. Or maybe it was because he realized I had no way of escaping him. At one point I had finally managed to fall to sleep on the plane, only to be awakened by Dennis’ elbow.
“So… Tell me again… This hot ass stripper was buck naked in the bed, tits staring at you, legs spread, you already have the condom on… And you walk out!?”
He continued to laugh, intermitted with moans of pain, as I twisted his wrist behind his back and forced his head against his tray table.
* * * * *
“You were right about one thing: there are some hotties around here!” Dennis noted as we walked around campus at the University of Portland.
Her old dorm turned out to be a dead-end. Dennis had no qualms about interviewing the new tenant, a cute blond freshman, but she was no help to me. Dennis took her number with the line, “in case you remember anything later,” which she proffered willingly. The others we questioned provided similar results.
“I’ll tell you what, by the time we do find her I won’t even have to worry about entertaining myself while y'all go and do your thing. I just wish you’d hurry up and find this bitch.”
I glared at him.
“I mean… chic.”
I rummaged a phone book with no luck, but I figured as much since she only used her cell phone. We headed to the school offices to try and track down some sort of student directory, but weren’t able to because of privacy laws. Fortunately we passed the Admission’s desk and Dennis convinced me to flirt with the sole student worker manning it. I fed the mousy girl a sob story about visiting for the holiday weekend, but leaving my cell phone on the plane and desperately needing to get a hold of my girlfriend. The whole time Dennis eyed her with hungry glances and flashed her dashing smiles. Amazingly, the ruse worked, she agreed to look her up in the school’s student database. Her final words crushed me.
They had no record of anyone by that name who attended the school.
* * * * *
“It’s like she just, vanished. How’s this possible?” I mumbled the words aloud without intending to. These past couple of days my emotions had been on a violent rollercoaster, and this was the fiercest drop they had faced yet.
Dennis took another sip of his coffee as we sat in a booth in a campus café. “I don’t know, man… Maybe she lied?” He offered up any possibility he could muster for my sake. “Maybe she was attending a community college and hoping to transfer?”
I could feel myself getting angry. I desperately tried to hold down the fire boiling in my stomach. “I think I know where the hell my girlfriend goes to school. She wouldn’t lie to me about that.”
Dennis shrugged his shoulders and opened his palms to the ceiling. “Ok, so what’s next?”
I stared hard into the table and nodded my head at my final resort. “We go to her parent’s house.”
* * * * *
Dennis wasn’t thrilled about taking an hour-plus cab ride to the little suburb where she grew up, but I paid the fare and reminded him it was my last resort. I told the cab driver to park across the street, a couple houses down from the all-American, two-story home. I walked up to the quiet blue and brick house, nerves on edge, while Dennis waited in the cab.
As I approached the door I couldn’t shake the fear from my veins. Why did I feel this way? Maybe it’s because there’s a chance her family hated me if they had seen her suffering like I was through the break-up. Or maybe it’s because I feared the impossibility that I’d reach another dead end.
I realized the absurdity of my latter thought and let vigor run through my veins as I realized that this was it. No more dead ends. Here I would finally be able to get into contact with the woman I loved. Her family would see how much I loved her, and no matter how angry they were their anger would be washed away by sympathy.
I rang the doorbell.
It was her father who appeared as the door swung open. He looked older. His face bore more wrinkles than I’d remembered and I wondered if something tragic had occurred in these past two months that had made him age quicker. My heart raced at the possibility of that tragedy involving her.
“Mr. Whitestone. I came to speak with your daughter.”
His expression confused me. It was a relief that he didn’t seem sorrowful, but there wasn’t happiness or anger to be found in it either.
“What are you talking about?”
“I uh… I’m sorry this is all so sudden. I’ve been trying to contact your daughter, I’m pretty sure she told you that we had broken up---“
“Who the hell are you?”
There was the anger I was expecting, but it felt… misplaced. A hurricane swept through my mind, my stomach twisted, and suddenly I realized that the expression that had confused me was just that: his own confusion.
“I.. I’m Gabriel…”
“Look son, I don’t know if you’re mistaken or you’re playing some prank but I’d suggest you leave, now.” He started to close the door on me.
Instinctively my hand went up and stopped the door from ending its journey. “No. Mr. Whitestone I don’t know what the hell is going on!” My anger was finally getting the best of me. I was losing control. “But I need to speak with your daughter immediately!”
I could feel the old man’s desperate attempts to close the door. I could hear his ragged breaths and the controlled fear as he called to his wife to call the police.
Dennis pulled my arm away from the door and it slammed shut. The deadbolt slammed audibly and I heard the muted voices of the fearful old couple inside. I turned on Dennis, fists clenched, feeling the need to rip someone to pieces.
“Dude what the fuck is going on!” He pulled at me, dragging me away from the door. “Come on, we need to get the fuck out of here.”
We waited at the end of the street. The cab fare constantly rising along with the cab driver’s irritation, but I didn’t care. Dennis conceded to wait for a half hour for the slight chance that she’d show up, but under the stipulation that if cops showed up we’d leave immediately. He’d expressed that I should’ve expected her parents to be upset with me. I hadn’t told him any details.
Near the end of the half hour he suggested I write a note for her, leave it in the mailbox. I had no plans of leaving. Fortunately a car pulled up in the driveway. I immediately recognized it as her brother’s. I got out of the cab and ran down the street toward him with Dennis calling after me.
“Jacob!” I called as I neared him. Her brother looked over in my direction. “Where is she?”
Her brother looked at me with disdain. “Excuse me?”
“Don’t pull that shit with me. Where the hell is she!”
Her bother put up his hands in a gesture to try and calm me down even though he was a big guy, a gym rat. “Calm down buddy. I don’t know who you’re looking for, but my name’s not Jacob and I have no idea what you’re talking about, so… just get outta here, or something.”
The front door opened and her father appeared with a cordless phone in hand. “I’m on the phone with the police! They are on their way right now!”
Her brother turned and looked at his father. “Dad, you know this guy?”
I slammed a heavy hand down on the trunk of his car. His head snapped back to me, furry in his eyes. I’m sure he saw the fire raging in mine. “Don’t fuck with me anymore god-damn it! I’m not going to ask again.”
“I don’t give a fuck what you’re on crack-head, but if you touch my car again I will pummel your ass.”
The cab pulled up beside me. Dennis opened the backdoor and yelled from the backseat, “Get in!”
“No! Fuck that! I’m not leaving without answers.”
“Gabriel, this is insane, get in.”
“The police are on their way!” Her father yelled from the front door.
“Gabriel, I’m not getting arrested for this shit, now come on.”
“Listen to your friend; he sounds like the sober one.” Her brother taunted.
“All I want is to talk to her.” I said in a steady voice, feeling like I needed to prove that I wasn’t drunk or stoned.
“Dude, is this all necessary, why won’t you guys just give him her number or something. This is crazy!” Dennis said to her brother.
“You two are the crazy ones! Who the hell are you talking about?”
Dennis looked at me, his eyes less than confident. I opened my mouth to say her name but it eluded me. I raced through my mind trying to find it, but I guess I was too drunk on rage. “You know who.”
“Who!” Her brother yelled.
“Savannah, dude! Savannah.” Dennis said.
“Who the hell is Savannah?”
I was quiet again. All eyes were on me. The cab driver said something to Dennis, obviously wanting to leave before the police arrived. Dennis told him to wait just a second. He looked back at me. “Dude,” was all he said.
There was something disconcerting in the way he said it. The fragile care concealed in that one word made my stomach churn and my legs feel like jello.
“Who?” Her brother asked again.
“Gabriel, c’mon man.”
“You’re sister! My girlfriend…” I said in a shaky voice, wishing I had sounded more confident.
Her brother laughed. “Was that supposed to be an insult, because I don’t have a fucking sister and my name is not fucking Joseph or Jacob or whatever-the-fuck!”
All of a sudden I felt like I was going to pass out.
“Gabe, man. C’mon we have to go. We’ll head home…we’ll find help….”
His words hit me like a brick and my knees buckled. I fell to the sidewalk, hands held out in a desperate attempt to grab hold of something to steady myself on. I heard the wails of police sirens nearing quickly. The cab driver was yelling at Dennis. Dennis was helping me to my feet and yelling back at him. With a draped arm over Dennis’s shoulder I watched as the cab sped off and two police cruisers pull up.
* * * * *
Jail was better than this. I would have rather been crying in that cold cell in my own dirty clothes with my best friend by my side, even if he was uncomfortably quiet. Nothing made sense. In jail I thought it was the worst place to be at the time. I wanted to break out and run away. I wanted to run into eternity, somewhere where my thoughts would stop and everything would become clear. But eventually we were bailed out and Dennis went back to Austin and I was turned over to my chain of command. And after being reprimanded and forced to pull overnight duty under constant supervision I was finally sent here.
Like jail all of my belongings were taken from me, but this time my clothes as well. All I was allowed to retain was a slip of paper with phone numbers of loved ones I may wish to call sometime. Now I was in another cold cell, this time dressed in an itchy blue shirt, oversized trousers, a depressing cloth robe and padded socks that apparently negated the need for civilized shoes. I lay in a fetal position under the inadequate sheets, clutching my only possession, the slip of paper, as I tried to hide the tears that formed puddles in my plastic pillow from the two cased cameras mounted on the ceiling. I would’ve done anything for Dennis to be by my side. I would’ve done anything to be in jail again.
I almost drifted into an uncomfortable, sobbing sleep once, but a worker came in. He tried questioning me like the woman had when I was initially brought here. Naturally, I didn’t feel like talking.
Night became day and I was ordered to breakfast and then to hygiene, although shaving was out of the question. I was ordered to a lot of things in the following days. Lots of group sessions and yoga, and doctor visits... The questions kept coming, but I never felt like talking. I never felt like anything. If I allowed myself to feel anything in here I was worried I would go insane. I became numb and detached, this crazy place, this terrible world felt like a side note, an intermission to the confusion that I had experienced in front of her house.
I watched time go by. From the barred windows high up on this little section of the eleventh floor I watched days and nights flow seamlessly, never sleeping because I was not really a part of this world.
They eventually moved me into a different room, this one with two roommates and no locked door or cameras. Late into the night, when the others were sleeping I walked into the U-shaped hallway of this parallel universe. I could feel the camera’s watching me. I could hear laughter coming from the nurse’s station just around the corner. I walked down the cold hallway in my padded socks, the silence of my movement making me feel ethereal. I walked to the TV room where the others would spend their days watching movies and chatting and laughing like I would in my world. Fortunately the workers in the nurses stationed were transfixed on a laptop and didn’t notice as I coolly walked into the TV room which was forbidden after hours. I’d never been in here before and had hardly paid mind to even glance in before. It was crudely furnished, and there was a mess of DVD’s and a few books under the large LCD mounted on one wall. There were puzzles and children’s toys scattered across a table which I found strange since there were no children in this place. There were a couple of barred windows across the room and I felt excitement at the new sights I would see out of them.
The view was much different from the ones on the other side of the U-shaped corridor. There were no mountains; instead I looked down onto an emergency room entrance and a vast parking lot. My heart stopped at the sight of an ugly old car looking lost and alone in the empty parking lot. It looked like the type of car an old, white-haired granny would drive, but I knew better. It was Savannah’s car.
Her voice came from behind me and my heart sputtered and stopped, sputtered and stopped. My face twisted involuntarily into an ugly mess and tears gushed out of my eyes. I tried to staunch the flow of them. I tried to form my face back into something seemly before turning to face her, but it was impossible. For a moment I worried that I was wrong, that it wasn’t her car, that I hadn’t heard her voice. I worried that maybe everyone here was right about me. But then her gentle hand wrapped around my bicep and she turned me around. I crumbled into her, sobbing like a lost child reunited with his mother. She, with her tiny frame, supported all of my weight, all of my worries, all of my sorrow.
“Savannah?” I asked in disbelief.
“I’m here Gabe,” she said as she ran her hand over my hair. “I’m so sorry.” She was crying too.
“Why did you leave me?” I begged, my muscled tightening in frustration and anger.
She tightened her hold on me and I melted into her again. “I never left you, you tried leaving me remember?”
“No, no I was wrong. I love you. I tried…” I couldn’t continue talking through my sobs.
She shushed me and caressed me. “And I love you, I love you so much Gabe. We love each other too much we can’t leave, we can’t be apart.”
“But there’s only one place where we can be together, you see?”
Somehow I knew what she meant. There was only one place we could be together happily. There was only one place where we wouldn’t be angry and upset and fighting and breaking up.
“Most people won’t like it, but it’s all we have Gabe. We’ll have to sacrifice so much but we will have each other. I love you so much and as long as I’m with you I’ll be happy.”
“Then let’s do it. You’re all I want in this world. You’re the only thing that makes me happy.” I said.
There, in her arms, sleep finally took me.
* * * * *
“Gabriel, it’s Mother’s Day next weekend.” He said.
“Really? Huh, I can never seem to keep track of that day. You think it’s because it’s the one holiday where I will never receive a gift? Nah, that can’t be it, because I can never remember Father’s Day either.”
“You remember Thanksgiving, right? You don’t receive gifts then, do you?”
“Oh yes I do! If I’m home that is. Grandma’s cooking is always a gift.”
“Oh? So you miss it?”
“Wouldn’t you want to be home for Thanksgiving this year? Get some of your grandmother’s cooking?”
“That would be nice.”
“Well, I’ll tell you that you’re mother would love for you to be there as well. She’s very concerned about you.”
“She’ll be fine. Everyone should be used to me being away. I’m sure she’s not as concerned as when I was overseas.”
“Would you like to talk about your time in the war?”
“Why do you always have to try and dampen the mood?”
“Well, Gabriel, it seems your doing well in many ways, but there are certain things that we have to get through before you are allowed to go home for Thanksgiving, or Mother’s Day for that matter.”
“…well, Doc, to tell you the truth, that’s fine. I’m used to it now, thanks to the Army.”
“But don’t you ever want to go home.”
“When is that?”
“Well, the Army only has me for another two years or so.”
“So you plan on spending those two years here?”
“Sure, why the hell not.”
“Why not? Because of your friends, your family. They are all very concerned about you. Your mother calls weekly, sometimes more, outraged at us.”
“Yeah, she can be intimidating at times.”
“And that doesn’t concern you?”
“Of course it does, but what do you expect me to do about it?”
“I expect you to open up to me. I want you to tell me about your time in combat. I want you to take the medication we prescribe to you.”
“And why is that?”
“Because you need help, Gabriel. There is something wrong and we need to find out what it is, what caused it, and we need to fix it.”
“I’m just fine, Doc.”
“You seem well enough, but we both know you’re not a hundred percent. I would like you to become well again, so you can go home. I want you to be able to get out of here do the things you used to love doing.”
“Me too, Doc, but I have to make sacrifices right now.”
“And you have no problem making those sacrifices?”
“Are you saying that your content living here, like this?”
“I’m more than content, Doc. I’m finally happy.”
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