End of Eternity 2

By: Loretta Lost

Chapter One

Dr. Owen Phillips

Everything is the same. Always the same.

As I stand outside my apartment door with my hands glumly tucked into the pockets of my leather jacket, I wonder where my life is going. Everyone around me seems to be moving forward and accomplishing noteworthy goals, but I’m just stuck in their shadows. Always stunted. Always playing catch-up.

I know that once I walk into my apartment, I will have all the fire sucked out of me once again. Every chance of growing and changing will be stripped away as I step back in time, trapped in the little box of who I used to be. Glued to a past I can’t escape.

But I’ve just worked a ten-hour shift at the hospital, and I have nowhere else to go.

At least I had a little glimpse of something more today.

I think of her, and a bittersweet smile brightens my face. How can someone so sad be so beautiful? How can someone so wrecked be so strong? I don’t know exactly what it was about Carmen Winters. Even with the weight of the world on her shoulders, and dark shadows behind her eyes, she seemed so filled with determination to get past it all.

I wish I had half her courage.

Unlocking my door to enter my apartment, I am greeted by the sight of my girlfriend sitting on the couch and knitting a sweater while she watches television. Caroline’s habits are so familiar to me that I can determine her stress levels by watching how furiously she knits. It seems like it has only been a moderately stressful day. Even though it’s around 5 a.m., she looks flawless, as though she has just applied a fresh coat of makeup and recently brushed and styled her hair.

She looks up at me with a tranquil smile. “How was work, Owen?”

Her hazel eyes are clear and sharp. I stare at them for a moment, wondering what this wonderful woman could possibly see in me. Why has she stuck around for so many years? Why has she tolerated all my bad habits and foolish decisions? Is she just biding her time until she finds someone better? I slide my arms out of my leather jacket and toss it aside before turning back to her.

“Marry me,” I say with sudden conviction.

Caroline laughs and continues knitting. “Sure, darling. When pigs fly.”

The tender hint of a German accent in her voice is usually endearing and enchanting, but now it just seems crudely disappointing. Once, many years ago, I got down on my knees and gave her a proper proposal. The rejection had wounded me deeply then, but now it continues to drag me down every time I bring it up. I thought that if I became a better boyfriend, I could someday convince her. I thought that if I was only kinder, more attentive, made more money, made her laugh more—I thought that I could change her mind.

“Please take me seriously for a minute,” I tell her softly, moving forward to sit on the couch beside her. I take her knitting away and place it on the coffee table so I can clasp her hands. “This is important to me, Caroline. I just want you to think about it. We’ve lived together for how many years? Nothing would really change! Our families and friends would be thrilled. Let’s just do it. Let’s get married.”

“Owen, you know how I feel about marriage,” she says sharply. She pulls her hands away with a sigh, and retrieves her knitting. “It’s a useless and outdated institution. That’s just not me. I love you, and you love me. Why do we need a piece of paper for proof?”

I turn away from her to hide my frustration. Why do I keep subjecting myself to this defeat? Why do I bother? “Fine,” I tell her in a tired voice. “Then can we at least talk about having a baby?”

“What?” she says with a laugh. “A baby, Owen? Where is all of this coming from?” Caroline shakes her head in vehement refusal. “There’s no way in hell that I’m ready for kids. We’re both drowning in student loans. What on earth would make you think it’s a good time?”

“Just forget it,” I tell her sadly. “Every time I mention this, you just brush it under the rug. It was stupid of me to open my mouth.”

“Hey,” Caroline says in a soothing way. “What’s gotten into you, loverboy? Why are you so upset with me?”

I am too drained to respond, and I sluggishly rise to my feet. Moving toward our bedroom with heavy steps, I pull off my sweater as I walk. Next goes my belt, and my pants are soon to follow, leaving a trail of material carnage behind me. I feel sweaty and disgusting after long hours at work, and I am craving the respite of a cold shower.

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