One More Chance
A Short Story
“I think … I think we should go to Linda’s wedding,” Adrian blurted out. “We can scarf up the lobster paté, guzzle champagne, and have some very inappropriate sex on the balcony.”
I glanced up from the latest extortion demand from American Express. “I’m not having sex with you on the balcony.”
He snorted. “Not sex with each other! With a random bridesmaid or one of the ugly waiters, or — ”
“Not having sex with ugly waiters either,” I murmured. Had I really paid $199.99 for those waterproof garden boots? Seemed excessive, even for me.
Adrian grinned, a big, wide smile that stretched across his face and glimmered with confidence.
I gave him my sternest look. “Stop glimmering,” I said. “This could be a disaster. Maybe she invited all her exes, not just you. Maybe you’ll all be sitting at the same table with hidden cameras, and you — ”
He pressed his thumb to my lips, silencing me and unmooring me at the same time.
“Hear me out,” he said, as if he were about to suggest a first-class flight to Aruba, or chocolate-covered strawberries for lunch. Hell, I’d be happy with a coach flight to Orlando and a Snickers. I’m not fancy.
I gave up fancy sometime between the busted water pipes, the tomato rot, and the sinking realization that my little organic veggie business was, while delicious, not going to fund my retirement.
“As long as it’s legal.” I came around the wooden plank that served as my seeding and transplanting table and dusted the soil off my hands.
“We go to the wedding, you and me and Jake, and we — ”
“You lost me,” I said, and changed direction, heading for the kitchen. Don’t we have strawberries? I just picked some. Now, where is the chocolate? “Leave Jake out of this if you want my help.”
“Jake is smack dab in the middle of this and you know it.” Adrian’s hands landed on my shoulders and he spun me around, no longer glimmering. “Jake is the only one of us Linda still talks to. He can get her out into the hallway or something. I just need to tell her…”
I spent one long moment letting myself absorb every point of contact between us, every spot where his fingers dug into my skin. It was exhausting sometimes to keep pretending.
“Adrian.” I didn’t sound too breathless. I was good. “Adrian.” Stronger. Much better. “You have to accept reality. She’s marrying somebody else.”
His mouth twisted down, but instead of pushing me away he pulled me closer.
“I don’t care about that.” The words came out in spurts. His hands were trembling now, but not for me, for some other woman, a woman he couldn’t have, and wasn’t it time, long since time, to get that through my head?
“It’s not what you think,” he said softly.
I peeled myself away and patted his arm awkwardly.
“Let’s just go hit the bars,” I said, mentally calculating how many bars I could actually hit with the $62.46 left in my checking account. “And tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do about the rent.” And the electric bill. And the effing insurance on the delivery van.
He stared at me vacantly, then finally nodded. He flopped down on the flowered sofa as if he were in pain. They’d probably done it on those very cushions, way back when. Right there, in the middle of my goddamn living room.
He dropped his head back and closed his eyes. “Do you remember the time we almost — the time it was…us?” he said softly.
Luckily I was still close enough to the table to lean against it.
“Ancient history,” I said.
We’d been out dancing, Jake and Adrian and Linda and me, and a half-dozen people from Jake’s job. They kept buying me shots, and then champagne, because we were celebrating Jake’s promotion, and my new shop, and Adrian and Linda’s upcoming move to London. We had made it, the four of us. We had been friends our whole lives, raising each other, with barely one functioning parent between us.
Look at us now!
Adrian was holding me, swaying to the music, savoring how our bodies fit together. Not for the first time, I could feel the hunger in him, and everything I’d been hiding just came rushing out.
“I have to,” he whispered, and I let him. Let him kiss me. Let him feel all the secrets right there on the tip of my tongue.
We were both flushed and breathing hard by the time the song ended, and I pressed my hand to my swollen lips. He led me back to the table. He intended to have me. Now. Tonight. I just knew it.
And then … Jake. Standing there. Furious and hurt and needy all at the same time. Jake. His feet braced as if for a fight, his body hard as sin. In one swift move he grabbed my hands and yanked me toward him, and Adrian pushed forward, crushing me into Jake’s chest.
This kiss, so different from Adrian’s, so dark and angry, so baffling, that I just held on. Were those Jake’s hands caught in my hair? Adrian’s creeping under my skirt? Was that my voice, moaning? I didn’t hear Linda’s gasps, didn’t see the smirks on Jake’s co-workers’ faces. We stood there, the three of us, pressed together. Unbreakable.
Or so I thought.
Right now, Adrian was staring at me. “Long time ago,” I said again. Long nights of recriminations. Linda’s hysterics, Jake’s embarrassment. I don’t even remember getting home that night. I remember curling up on the floor, sick with fear. Terrified that we had destroyed everything.
In the days and weeks that followed, Linda untethered herself from us and drifted away. She left for London alone. Jake retreated into stony silence.
Adrian and I clung to each other like children in the dark.
This was breaking the rules. We never spoke of it. Ever.
“If we had another roommate, we’d make the rent easy,” he said, watching me carefully. This huge, drafty apartment above the shop was just one more thing we couldn’t afford. There were three bedrooms and plenty of closet space, but we burned through roommates like beer.
Like Marty, who couldn’t handle Adrian’s Tibetan chanting at 2am. And DeeDee with the cats, and then the guinea pigs. Like she had no idea what cats will do to guinea pigs.
Adrian took a deep breath and sat up. “I’m going over to Jake’s. Maybe hit the gym.”
He paused at the door. “His housemate just let his girlfriend move in. He might be looking for a new place. Maybe he … he might want to move in here. With us.”
He didn’t wait for an answer. Anyway, what would I say?
While he was gone, I grabbed the scissors and resolutely cut up my Amex card, but not the invitation to Linda’s wedding.
Then I took a long, hot shower and lit some candles.
I’m an optimist. Everyone says so.