All About Luck (Part 3)
I had my luck. I embraced it. I carried my coin – or bottle opener/pen/paper clip/screwdriver - everywhere I went. And it really seemed as if my luck was with me. The lights would change at just the right moment, the street would always be clear for me to cross. When I dropped a ten-dollar note, the guy walking behind me caught up to me to give it back instead of pocketing it and strolling away happily. My lunch came hot and fresh, tasted good, was frequently on special. My computer was working more or less properly; and my power bill was lower than expected.
Then David, my boss at the stationers, called me into his office. “Logan's buggering off to Australia. There's an assistant manager position up for grabs.”
“Don't ask me. He just got it into his head.”
Logan, that smarmy shit who'd take any opportunity to look down his nose at me, who specialised in making me feel small. Couldn't say I was going to miss him.
“So what do you think?”
“What? Wait – about the job?”
“Yeah. You interested?”
“The guy behind you.”
And yes, for a moment, I did almost turn around. But me? I'd had no idea I was even considered management material. Me? Why? I fingered the black and gold pin on my collar. “Well, yeah, yeah I'd consider it. Sure.”
“You'd be full time, and of course there's the pay rise. We'd have to negotiate that, but I'm pretty sure we can find something worth your while.”
“Okay. Yes,” still a little bit dumb-founded.
“Good stuff, I'll get you an application form.”
And, of course, I dated the hell out of Alison. She was the best part of my luck. The true prize. And I couldn't have been happier. I was walking around on air, we spent our time laughing and kissing, walking hand in hand, sometimes chasing each other down a beach, or along an empty street at midnight. We ended up at the playground, taking turns on the slide; then sliding down together, without cutting, breaking, or burning anything.
On the seventh date we ended up in my bed. And that was wonderful. I'd been around of course, I'd been under these covers with other girls. But this was different: the two of us fit, we were pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, we were two halves of the same puzzle: a gigantic 5000 piece puzzle, and against all odds the pieces came together in a pefect fit. As if our bodies were custom made for each other. I felt like screaming, I felt like running naked out onto the verandah and screaming to anyone who could hear me, howling like a wolf from sheer satisfaction.
Fortunately for my neighbours, I kept that joy inside me. Instead, me and Alison, we passed it back and forth between us, watching it grow like a forming snowball, a waxing asian moon.
Then on the twelth date, I made things romantic. I was cooking her my signature Italian dinner, following it up with a white chocolate mousse. The best wine was in the fridge. Candles and roses on the table. I wanted things special.
And Alison was impressed. She looked the table up and down: “Wow. This is amazing.”
She was looking pretty amazing herself, her dress being blue and sparkly – a smoke and sunset blue, constructed out of thick, square sequins; earrings to match. She was showing bare leg from the knee down. Loose hair, sitting lightly on her shoulders.
“Thank you for coming.” Not just a pleasantry, I felt actually grateful just for the sight and presence of her. Falling that hard: it really does hurt, it hurts like you've fallen from a physical height, like you've landed on real, hard, physical rock. And I hadn't known that before knowing her.
She slid into her chair: “You've gone all out.”
“I wanted this night to be something else.”
Her eyes went wary. “Something else?”
“Oh, it's all right, I'm not going to propose or anything.”
Thankfully, she laughed out loud. That meant I could laugh with her. Tension killed. She was so easy to laugh with. “See,” she ran her finger around her plate, “you do have good china.”
I lit the candles with a fancy, gold-crusted lighter. “Well, its not part of a set of six anymore.”
“Pity. I like these.”
“Yeah, me too. She knew that when she started throwing. They both did.”
Alison leaned in: “How many, Bruce? You can tell me.”
“And vice versa.”
Hesitation, quickly squashed. “Vice versa. You first.”
“I don't keep count.”
“Really. Who's that much of a prick? I don't have a little black book either. But let me see: okay – those two. Charlotte. Psycho-witch. Marlene. Some bitches from hell. There was one nice one, she was called Rachel,” and I was counting on my fingers here, “and Quilla.” A few weeks ago she'd have been lumped in there with the bitches from hell, but it didn't seem quite right now, it seemed petty, now that we'd sort of patched things up. “That's the list. What was I up to?”
“How many hell-bitches?”
“.... three.” Again with my fingers.
“Then it totals nine.”
“Not that bad right? Kind of average. Vice versa?”
“I'm not counting you.”
“But that's all?”
I wasn't quite sure what to think. I knew she had a shyness about her, the kind that wasn't always obvious if you didn't know to look for it, but still... It just made me think...
“You were hoping for sluttier?”
“No. Just... were they bad relationships?”
She breathed deep. Something. A real something.
“I can stop prying.”
“No.” But there was a shudder in her breath. “It's okay. Just, they ended badly.”
“Oh. Who ended it?”
“The first one, I broke up with him, he was too much. The second one... it... it ended in death.”
“Sorry. You didn't need to know that.”
“Actually, I did. I'm sorry for you. That's just the worst...” and I'd been going to say 'luck', but I realised how tacky that sounded, I amended as best I could: “It's awful. Must have been hellish.”
“For a while.”
“Can I ask?”
“It was a heart thing. I don't really know what kind. Nobody knew he had it, it was just there in him, otherwise all healthy and tough-guy, and then: one day at work, just down on the ground, white, then dead. That's all there was to it.”
Silence. After that. There was nothing else for it but silence. No words fitted adequately around what she'd just told me. All I could feel was pain for her. I reached out and held her hand, letting the silence do its work. I only spoke when it seemed like the interval had been long enough, when it was soon enough to change the subject. “Listen, I'm going to go visit my parents next weekend, they're up in Summerton, just a couple of hours away. Can you come with me?”
She stared. “Your parents.”
“And I'd like to meet your family too. They're local, right?”
I'd said something wrong, encroached on some territory not yet mine. I wasn't sure how to draw back, or if I wanted to. I slipped into our more accustomed space, trying to laugh it off: “Look, I don't care how many heads they have, I'll think they're great if they have six each. In fact I'll think they're pretty cool if they really have six heads.”
“Bruce, I don't know...”
“I know... I know you would...”
“And I don't give a shit if they don't. Honest.”
“I don't- I just don't...”
“Look if its too soon...”
“Okay. But I'm ready to open my closets and drag all the skeletons out. I told the folks about you, and they're pretty keen. I painted a rosy picture – you are a rosy picture. Tell me you've got this weekend free.”
It was a very different voice, it wasn't at all as if it was Alison speaking: “I think... I might be busy this weekend.”
And she didn't pick up the next time I called her. And when I left her a message she didn't reply. When I left her two messages. When I left her three.
“Sucks,” Geoff said, with genuine sympathy, but to my ears it sounded like I told you so, and it made me want to punch him in the face.
“I'm sorry, buddy.” Again, all sincerity.
“Me too. I don't know what I should do.”
“She doesn't want to talk to me. What if she's got someone else?”
“Maybe you should follow her.”
I shot that down with a withering, killing glare.
“Yeah, follow her. I can't even see her, or talk to her. I don't know where she is.”
“You know where she works.”
“Oh perfect. Proof positive she's got herself a suspicious, controlling stalker.”
“Just saying. We could go get dinner.”
“Yeah, that's subtle. She'll never figure it out.”
“Fine, fine,” he joined me in my moroseness, “All I'm saying's: you found someone, the real thing like, the once in a lifetime. So don't let it go.”
“You don't know.” The way I said that, I would need to apologise for it later, but right now, this minute, he was the worst scumbag on earth for being right.
And even worse than my friend: my luck. I'd been so sure of it, sure that I was on that golden path. And now. It occurred to me that the backlash was going to be massive, that karma was going to be an all-out bitch. She was going to get me in her clutches and she was going to squeeze.
And then I decided not to let that happen.
I stood in the street, holding my coin. I turned it over and over, looking for some fault in it, some change. It'd lead me this far, and now, to abandon me... I considered dropping the thing down a grate – it would have easy, there was one just over the road. I suppose it was only some residual superstition that prevented me, or maybe some last vestige of hope. What if I were just over-reacting to a girl scared off by intimacy overload? What if this was nothing more than her phone charger being broken, or maybe having lost that phone behind a desk or couch? Whatever I had going on here, it was time to deal with it head on. Be a man, I told myself, but I felt a lot more like a mouse.
Tolcarne's. That was a swanky place, just like Geoff had said. It was well-lit; wall-papered in gold, embossed paisley, the ceiling sculpted, with cut glass sparkling from its chandeliers. The dinners were priced at about a week's pay.
“I'm looking for Alison."
“And you are?”
I tried this on in my head, spoke with only a flicker of hesitation: “Her boyfriend.”
“That a fact?” said the clerk, and I hated him on the spot. He was already sizing me up and seeing something wholly inadequate. He looked at me as if trying to puzzle out what his colleague saw in me.
“It's a fact,” I said.
“She's never mentioned a boyfriend.”
“I guess you're not that close.” The wrong thing to say. I took a breath: “Look, I think we had a fight or something. I didn't know it at the time-” and his eyes definitely rolled at that “-but she's been ignoring me since, and I just want to set things straight, you know. I won't cause a scene or anything.”
“No flowers,” He sniffed.
“I just want to talk.”
“I'll find out if she'll see you.”
Just let me go in, I'll find her, I'll... but that's the sort of thing an abusive ex would say, the sort of thing that gets the police called and some guy locked up for the night. So I had to wait, standing idle, with my hands at my side, feeling like a loser. I was acutely aware of the fact that I didn't have flowers, was here with nothing more apetising to present than myself. I'm here now. Do or die.
And she came walking out, smart in her uniform, but her eyes looking haunted, her expression full of reluctance.
“I've been trying to call you.”
“Just tell me what the hell's going on. What've I said.”
She hesitated. “There's cafe over the road, I'm nearly done here. I'll come find you there, okay?”
Would she? There was nothing else for it but to wait her for, nursing a coffee and sticky bun, watching the hands of the clock on the wall as they made their steady march. Yes, of course she'll come. You know she will. Just don't be a dick when she does, that's all. Make things right.
She came in looking tired. She'd changed out of her uniform, wearing jeans and a long top, her hair hastily tied back. She ducked into her seat as if she was trying to avoid being seen.
“Something's wrong.” I said.
She shook her head.
“Please tell me.”
“I don't want to say it, I know how it sounds, but it's not you. It's really me.”
“Us. This. I-” she was trying to find the right words. “I'm not breaking up with you if that's how this sounds.”
“What? Shit.” It hadn't.
But the thought of it, the very idea of it being put out there like that. “No, of course. We're in love.”
That was the “L” word, tossed into the wrong sentence, said at the wrong time, said for the first time in a context where it didn't belong, too early – too late to take back. Alison, to her credit, didn't flinch. And if she didn't say it back it was because the timing was crap and it would have been tokenistic and kind; not the real, earthy, living thing I needed.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
She changed tack: “I need to go away for a few days.”
She just looked at me.
Did I have the right to ask? I found mysel floundering in this uncharted territory.
She said “It'll just be a few days.”
“If it's something I've said...”
“No. It's not.”
“Then what? What?” And I made the mistake, knowing at some depth of me that it was the mistake, but finding myself puppeted by some cruder and more immediate emotion: “Is there somebody else,
is that is?”
“Are you serious?”
“That's not an answer.”
“I'm going.” She stood up. She grabbed her coat, and she walked to the door.
I was behind her. I tossed an overpayment for my cake and coffee down on the table as I left. I trailed after her heading for her car. “Oh, come on! Wait! I just don't know what's going on with you.”
Tears in her eyes: “Yes, I know.” She opened her door, had it closed before I could protest, stepped on the gas.
There were Geoff's words in my head: Maybe you should follow her. My car was directly across the street.