Mike’s parting words remain with Shelley long after he shuffles across the dining area toward the lobby. …I’ll be around for a while…and I don’t just mean tonight. His form is blurry now. It’s not because of the physical distance. Shelley’s eyes are one part of her that has always worked right. Her tears obscure clarity. Fifty feet away, sixty feet, seventy, Mike is a dark blue blob.
Her eyes shift to the phone flipped open in her palm. The downward movement of her eyes casts another tear out, banishing it from her churning insides. The blackened screen hids Sarah’s number, Mike’s message: call if u need anything.
The phone snaps shut. She sniffles, blows her nose on the only napkin left. The other one is with Mike, a piece of her, a bit of trust. An open door.
She lifts the cold coffee to her lips, sips. It goes down like liquid gold, the caffeine another friend. She sets the cup down and fingers her coat pocket–empty of cigarettes. She smoked her last pack two days ago and swears, for the umpteeth time, that she’s quitting. Yet she shakes, unsure if it’s withdrawal or frayed emotions.
She finishes the coffee in a few long gulps, then stands and tosses the cup away. She goes outside to her spot.
The picnic table ought to have my name engraved on it after all these months, she thinks. Now she is alone with her thoughts, yet she tries to force them out like the tears. Emptiness is easier to hold than an overfilled vessel of heartache. Heartache spills and leaves stains in its wake.
Everywhere Shelley has driven, visited, these past several days has left a trail of heartache, like tire marks on the road from trying to speed away at the last minute. Or the desperation to stop, just throw on the brakes. Just make life halt. Marks left.
She gazes out toward the turnpike. The drone of traffic in the night is a drug. She can almost hear tires squealing on the pavement, leaving more marks. A vehicle crashing into the concrete barrier, repeatedly, a nightmare replayed, a life wasted. Her life? Whose life?
She reaches into her pocket again, wishing for the cigarettes. She comes away with the cell phone, opens it. A rueful smile creases her face that Mike cares. Sarah. Russ.
She’s already visited the cemetery, the church, the house, the workplace…driven through all the old haunts…stirring her memories. Her vessel spilled months ago. Now she’s just trying to clean up the mess.
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