Rumor Has ItBy: Jessica Lemmon
The girl sitting across from me crying, that’s Beth. Her smooth, walnut-colored skin is half due to her Filipino father, the other half her Hawaiian mother. We’ve split up nearly a dozen times over the course of the last six years, the last time for good.
I hand her my napkin and she dabs at the tears streaking her cheeks. The massive diamond solitaire on her left ring finger is the one she said she always wanted, but it’s not from me.
“That’s the biggest rock I’ve ever seen. Bigger in person than in a magazine photo,” I say. It is, which is unbelievable. She smiles sadly down at the ring. I take her hand—a hand I’ve held a million times in the past. A hand that has cracked across my face twice that I remember. She’s left-handed. Both times I’d earned those slaps. I rub my thumb over the diamond and let her fingers go.
She’s not mine anymore. I’m not sad about it. It was headed there from the beginning, but both Beth and I had a serious case of “warm body” syndrome. Love the one you’re with and all that.
She sniffs and dabs at her eyes again. The café is pretty dead. Either the three people in here aren’t paying attention to us or have noticed and are being polite. Anyway, Beth isn’t a drama queen, so she’s not doing this for attention. She’s the stable one. The part of unhinged, irrational asshole has always been played by me.
“I’m scared,” she says, her tears now dried and her eyes on mine.
“Of getting married?”
She shakes her head, tucking her sleek black hair behind her ears. “Of ruining a marriage. You and I never figured it out and we were together for almost six years.”
I tip my coffee mug and study the cooling black liquid for answers. They’re not there. I typically go with my gut but at the moment my guts—along with my chest cavity—feel as if they’ve been scooped out. I don’t do heartbreak. Each and every time Beth and I bit the dust, or “took a break,” I began dating immediately. I was plenty okay with a one-night-stand that acted as a Band-Aid, and, not to sound like a dick, but there was always a woman around willing to patch me up.
This time my heartbreak can’t be credited to Beth, but to a woman by the name of Catarina. I haven’t so much as glanced at another woman—no Band-Aids for me—until this meeting with Beth. And I only showed up when she asked because, of all the roles we’ve played to each other, “friends” was the most legit.
“I mean this with sincerity.” I set down my cup. “It wasn’t you. Ever. It was always me.”
This brings a sweet smile to her face. The one that dazzled me during my junior year at The Ohio State University. She was a cheerleader and I was smitten so fast my head literally spun. We’ve been through a ton together. College. My getting drafted for the NFL. Surgeries that were futile attempts at repairing a torn rotator cuff that took me away from the game. Us living in Miami. Living in Columbus. Us splitting up.
“It wasn’t all you, Bare.” She consoles me with her right hand and I wonder if she does it on purpose so as not to flaunt her new ring from her new beau. I wouldn’t feel slighted though. She deserves to be happy.
Bare is short for Barrett, by the way. Last name Fox. I have copper-colored hair like the aforementioned woodland creature, but with more brown than red. Still doesn’t keep the girls from referring to me as a “ginger,” which I used to mind until I realized how much tail it got me.
God. I’m a moron.
“Mostly it was my fault. Is all my fault,” I correct.
A few months ago, I ran into Beth at this very café. She was taking a coffee to go and I was picking up lunch. I mentioned that I met someone and she was hurt and happy at the same time. I knew how she felt. I felt the same way when she told me about Mark.
Now I suck in a breath and tell her the abbreviated, updated version of my relationship status. “I fucked things up with Catarina.”
“What? No.” Beth reaches across the table and grips my hand, comforting me when it should be the other way around. Told you I was an asshole.
“What happened?” she asked.